Premiership Preview

We were sitting down over caramel mocha skinny frappoccinos in the Southside yesterday, before heading home to the Northside for deep fried lard-balls and gravy chips, and we pondered the post about how dire the Top14 is – the prospect of writing a preview was not appealing to say the least.

So we started talking about the Pro12, and ended up equally as unenthused – the idea of previewing a league where pretty much all the teams don’t give a sh*t about it ain’t much craic either. This led us to a rather revolutionary idea – writing a Premiership preview! Ooooooooooooooohh!

The Premiership might have been a laughing stock for the last few years, and indeed some of our more mouth-foaming fans maintained Connacht were better than Leicester following their thumping in Ravers last January, but it’s genuinely competitive and more exciting than you might think. Last year there were way more tries than in either other league on average, and Leicester were like the Baabaas in the second half, scoring 6 try bonus point wins in a row.

Bath

The sexiest city in England, the best ground in England, great fans, great tradition, but a rubbish team. There is potential in the squad through the likes of Jack Cuthbert and Tom Heathcote, but it’s mostly packed to the gills with dead wood. Another mid-table mediocrity season beckons – treading water.

Look out for: Heathcote is a sparkling young 20-year old who has no pressure thanks to George Ford and big money signing Beaver – finally a home-grown 10 worthy of Barnesy’s shirt

Oooooooooohh: Converted second row Matt Banahan has the turning circle of the Titanic

Exeter Chiefs

Went from surprise winners of the Championship to surprise Premiership survivors to surprise HEC qualifiers. The upwardly-mobile Chiefs have a strong support and what looks like a cracking little atmospheric ground. They’ll want another HEC qualification, but we think they won’t get it.

Look out for: We wonder when Dean Mumm went to sleep on those Wallaby training camps after a day with Nathan Sharpe did he dream of partnering Tom Hayes?

Oooooooooohh: big-boned Fijian winger Sireli Naqelavuki knows only one thing – running very fast towards an opposing player – bash!

Gloucester

A disappointing season for Glaws last year despite the memorable thumping of boring bosh-merchants Toulouse – the days of topping the regular-season log are long gone. They’ve responded by making quite a few interesting signings like Jimmy Cowan, Ben Morgan and Billy Twelvetrees to add to their youthful zip. A return to the HEC placings looks within their reach.

Look out for: Any of the jet-heeled backs – we’re pretty big fans of Jonny May here – but it’s Freddie Burns who looks the real deal

Oooooooooohh:  Admirably free of bosh in the post-Vainikolo days – if anything they need a couple of crash-ball merchants to set targets.  More Oooooooooooohhh, not less! You heard it here first.

Harlequins

Started last season like a bullet, and, amazingly didn’t end up losing at the hands of one of the nastier boys in the playground i.e. Tigers, Saints or Sarries. Carried home their first Premiership title and were a breath of fresh mostly-English air. Europe will probably be the priority this year – we think a repeat is unlikely, but playoffs probable.

Look out for: Luke Wallace never quite nailed down a starting position last season, but he is a pure groundhog who we will see plenty more of

Oooooooooohh: Jordan Turner-Hall has taken contact and held on in the tackle – again!

Leicester Tigers

Made their 8th final in a row last season, and are English rugby’s bluebloods. Still, no silverware to speak of, and a frightful beating in Belfast to boot. Despite another stinker of a HEC draw, they’ll want to make amends for last season – they’ve a deep squad and will want their English crown back.

Look out for: George Ford is the next big thing – he might be their starter by the end of the season, and Floody could go from being tomorrow’s man to yesterday’s man in one fell swoop

Oooooooooohh: Now that Alesana Tuilagi, Barnesy’s favourite bosh-merchant, has gone, it has to be Thomas “the Tank Engine” Waldrom, famed for going missing when it really counts

London Samoa Irish

Irish appear to have eschewed boshing in favour of something more watchable – the coaching staff is all new, and the inventor of defence, St Shaun of Oop North, is on board. Will be able to concentrate on the Premiership, and the exit of Felon Armitage will ensure less sideshows, and more likeability as well.

Look out for: Iain Humphreys flounced out of Ulster after being dropped for P-Jack for the HEC semi, but on form, he can inspire a backline to high levels of expansiveness

Oooooooooohh: League convert Setaimata Sa is on board – he’s described as a “line-breaking centre or back-row”, which we think means “contact merchant with hands of stone”

London Welsh

Have the be-wigged beaks of the Bailey to thank for being here – after initially being turned down to replace Newcastle, they got their way. Promoted despite finishing a distant 4th in the Championship, they’ll do extremely well to avoid an immediate return there

Look out for: we hate ourselves for saying this, but attention-seeking has-been Gav Henson will dominate headlines. He doesn’t deserve this nth last chance, but he has it, so let’s grudgingly wish him the best

Oooooooooohh: we’re being pretty presumptuous here, having never seen him play, but Hudson Tonga’uiha is a Tongan centre – we imagine he isn’t known for his defence-splitting soft hands

Northampton Saints

The team which expended so much energy getting from the Championship to the HEC final is slowly chipping away – Downey, Wilson and Ashton left this summer. We are pretty down on any team piloted by Ryan Lamb, and we think they are going to miss out on the playoffs this ear.

Look out for: Ben Foden is a damn handsome chap, but a rejuvenated Courtney Lawes is even more crucial if Saints are to prosper this year

Oooooooooohh: He might get Barnesy excited, but So’ane Tonga’uiha isn’t actually all that good

Sale Sharks

Huge amount of excitement this summer at Sale, as two of rugger’s bigger names signed up to Steve Diamond’s “project”. We’re uber-excited to see Cippers back – expect fun either way – and we think he can inspire the Nordies to the playoffs and possibly, maybe, who knows, book himself onto the Lions tour.

Look out for: Corpulent Jerry might think he looks as though he runs through treacle, but to us and most sane people, Richie Gray is one of the best locks in world rugby – his break and step against Ireland this year was laughably good

Oooooooooohh: Munster foreign signing fail Sam Tuitupou is captain (captain!) – look to see space outside eschewed for a crunch into an opposing centre

Saracens

Brand Sarries continue to push upwards – a strong squad was strengthened by the arrival of Chief Dickhead Chris Ashton, and there is a HEC game scheduled for Brussels in October. They only finished two points off the top last season, and will be aiming to get their crown back.

Look out for: Owen Farrell was anointed as England’s saviour, then lamented as a poor man’s Wilko. We would be hoping to see him develop into a more rounded game manager this year

Oooooooooohh: In last years Six Nations, straight-line Brad Barritt made Dr Roberts look like Sonny Bill Williams

Wasps

This time 5 years ago, Wasps were starting the season as European champions, and would go on to lift the Premiership trophy – yet last season they narrowly avoided the drop having lost key players to injury – by contrast it’s hard to imagine Leinster scratching it out with Zebre in 2017. Saved from bankruptcy this summer, Dai Young is in as director of rugby and it’s year zero. They’d take mid-table respectability, and they’ll probably get it.

Look out for: With Danny Care, Lee Dickson and Ben Youngs doing their best not to nail down the England 9 shirt, Joe Simpson will have an eye on regular international recognition

Oooooooooohh: Former Cheetahs back-rower Ashley Johnson has tired of the long queue ahead of him for the Boks, and is taking his contact game to the Premiership – don’t expect many offloads

Worcester Warriors

Worcester were just happy not to be where Newcastle finished – narrowly avoiding a return from whence they came. With Bristol blowing promotion again, Worcester will fancy themselves to stay ahead of London Welsh and continue to hang on by their fingernails.

Look out for: Long touted as the next big thing, Matt Kvesic is a teak-tough all-action 6.5 – think Wally

Oooooooooohh: Neil Best has never been shy of an argument and the muck and crash of the bottom of the Premiership suits him

For once we are actually going to nail our colours to the mast, and not talk in endless possibilities. Here’s how its going to finish up:

Champions: Leicester

Playoffs: Saracens, Harlequins, Sale Sharks

HEC: Gloucester, Northampton

Relegated: London Welsh

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5 Comments

  1. Dr Gonzo

     /  August 28, 2012

    Nice work as ever WOC, getting me through a typically slow Tuesday at work. I usedn’t to get the Ooooooooh joke until I watched Samoa’s tackle on Mafi in Milton Keynes in January and Barnesy either had someone under the table or spilt his coffee on himself. I think N’ton have done a cracking bit of business with Dom Waldouck in their ranks but the loss of Ashton denies them a regular outlet of tries from anywhere on the park. I could be strung on the rafters here but Ford will have his ticket ahead of Cippers on Air Force Scrum to Oz. Ford has better composure at a younger age and hasn’t peeved off any of the coaching panel to the extent that Cipriani and his image has.

  2. HenryFitz

     /  August 29, 2012

    I’m surprised you have Northampton out of the top 4 this year. They’re my tip to win it, and I think they’ll do well in the Heino too. They’ve always had the forward power – which has been strengthened by some good close-season signings – but this year they’ve got some penetration in the backs. There will be some high quality players missing out on selection in that backline. They have what they didn’t have two years ago: a strong squad.

    • Hmmmm, we aren’t so sure – The Lamb/Myler out-half combo doesn’t inspire us, and the loss of the 3 aforementioned stalwarts of the last few year will hurt continuity. We don’t see the likes of Artemyev, Diggin and Pisi as top class wings by any stretch.

      That said, full seasons from Lawes, Dowson and Wood will go some way to keeping them competitive.

      Its more we think that the 5 we picked to finish above them have strengthened while the Saints, at best, have treaded water.

  3. Pedantic Pete

     /  August 29, 2012

    Great stuff WOC as always. One thing though – Isn’t Alesana Tuilagi gone from the Tigers? Thought he was off to Japan in the close season.. Not that they’re short of Ooooooooohh anyways – Manu, Thomas The tank engine, etc

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